After watching the season finale of Revenge Wednesday, I was certain that I had seen the craziest hour of television that the 2011-2012 season had to offer. Fast forward twenty-four hours and begin a slow-clap for Awake, a complicated show that never quite caught on. Last night touched on insane series finale territory as it somehow managed to answer questions but revealed nothing all at the same time. Let the great debate begin!
Let’s bitch it out…
First off, big thanks to TVAngie for covering my absence last week. She did a bang-up job with a jam packed episode, and now we’re all set to turn our attention to the final episode, ‘Turtles All The Way Down’ (Side Note: great title!).
I’ve spent some time reflecting on Awake the last few weeks and I’ve come to a few realizations. Initially I was okay with the news that the show had been canceled because I felt that the middle episodes had compromised the integrity of the show’s premise (this is when I stopped recapping the procedural elements entirely) and the show was spinning its wheels. It wasn’t the show that I wanted it to be, so I was comfortable letting it go. But after seeing the last three episodes – and hearing that the noticeable increase in quality coincided with the production break the show took earlier this year – I was 100% back on board.
Because, let’s face it, Awake is/was easily the most challenging, thought-provoking show on network television this year. Bar none. And the finale is completely demonstrative of this as roughly a quarter of the episode is spent in a dreamscape wherein Michael Britten (Jason Isaacs) deciphers the clues to unravel the conspiracy that cost him his wife and/or son.
What’s impressive about the finale is that it manages to juggle the parallel goals of the show: there was a season long arc investigating the mysterious heroin-related conspiracy that caused his car accident, and then – for those adventurous enough to try – there was the “why is this happening” debate around Britten’s Red and Green lives. Admittedly the finale does spend more time wrapping up the conspiracy by promoting Laura Innes’ Captain Tricia Harper to chief adversary and then exposing her, but there is a resolution of sorts on the alt-lives as well.
Let’s tackle the ‘conspiracy’ first.
After last week, I was unsure how things would turn out for Michael in either world. Thankfully in Green, Bird (Steve Harris) diligently searches for – and discovers – the heroin, prompting Harper to handcuff and shoot Carl (Mark Harelik) at the dingy Silver Saddle motel. This exonerates Britten in Green, but he’s still suffering from a gunshot in Red. It’s this predicament that occupies the remaining majority of the finale. This is the more challenging situation to resolve and involves a familiar batch of police procedural tropes: causing a car accident that knocks out Hawkins (Kevin Weisman), kidnapping Dr. Lee (BD Wong) at gunpoint and being arrested for Bird’s murder. It’s only when Britten receives a visitor as he’s about to fall asleep (hint hint) that the show kicks it into overdrive.
Throughout the season, we’ve watched Britten solve crimes using information from the other life. What happens here, however, is unlike anything we’ve seen. Green and Red Brittens collide to solve the case, as Red dreamwalks through Harper’s Green life murder of Carl with Vega (Wilmer Valderama) – in a penguin suit! – acting as guide and human video recorder. Perhaps I’m in a Twin Peaks frame of mind, but this scene felt very reminiscent of the scenes in the Black Lodge to me (more in atmosphere than anything). There’s something very surreal about watching Britten piece together clues in his subconscious to events that he has not witnessed. These clues, which creator Kyle Killen is on record explaining, are possible because Britten’s injury and mental state have precluded him from performing as usual. Killen states: “The dream fractures… he steps outside the dream and it literally becomes very dream-like, in order to deliver to him the answer that he seems to need in going back to the other world”. With these clues, Britten is then able to put together his case, confront Harper and – much like Emily Thorne on Revenge – resist the urge to exact vengeance and remain true to his inner morality by allowing his victimizer to live.
This is all good. Interesting, strange, and exciting, even. And then we come to Britten’s final scene with Dr. Evans (Cherry Jones) in Green as she applauds the fact that he’s let go of Red (which we saw literally embodied when Britten has a gorgeously shot and lit dinner with Laura Allen’s Hannah). Britten disagrees with Dr. Evans, however – he hasn’t chosen or discarded one life. And this is where the big debate begins: because Britten freezes Dr. Evans and walks into a third life (Tan?) that he has seemingly created – or dreams up – in which both Rex (Dylan Minnette) and Hannah are alive.
I was particularly taken with one of the final shots. The camera is directly behind Britten so that only the back on his head is visible and Rex is on his left with Hannah on the right. It’s a symmetrical image that’s reminiscent of the promotional pictures, and – to me – perfectly captures what the show is all about. Awake was never about cases, or clues, or conspiracies. It is about one man’s quest to hold onto his family – no matter what it costs – and the only element that divides (and conjoins) his two lives is him. In this third option, whether it’s real, imagined, dreamed or created, Britten has finally found a way to resolve his situation into a perfect world. And that’s why it is the only word he gives when they ask if he’s okay: “Perfect”. The last of an amazing series and a fantastic finale that people will likely be discussing for some time to come.
- I definitely thought that my cable was on the fritz when Dr. Evans froze. And then my jaw hit the floor when Britten continued moving. Such an amazing moment.
- How much fun was it to see the shrinks bicker? And for Britten to finally tell them to shut up? Such fun.
- Quick shout-out to Laura Innes for some really played scenes. TVAngie picked up on several scenes last week and she builds on her conflicted villain in the finale. After she kills her lover, Carl, Harper has a quick breakdown on the toilet that is so brief, but so real, that its amazing when she pulls herself together to walk away. Another great scene is the climatic confrontation with Britten in her office. Even as she is about to be shot, Innes plays it so that Harper seems vaguely threatening, pathetic and wearily resigned all at once. Great work for what’s, in reality, a pretty underdeveloped character.
- Although the finale hit the sweet spot for me and featured some of the most gorgeously shot scenes on network TV, I still would have liked a bit more time with Hannah, and especially Rex. The dinner scene with Hannah was amazing – a spot-lit table in the darkened restaurant. Did you notice that Hannah’s dress featured the same black and white colour scheme as a penguin?
- How sweet would it be for Isaacs to grab an Emmy nod for his work here? He’s been showy and a little much for me in some episodes, but the finale found him in a – dare I say it? – perfect pitch. Plus it’d really stick it to NBC for canceling their sole, truly intelligent show (although I respect that the numbers were dismal)
*UPDATE: Kyle Killen has given another revealing interview to EW.com here
So that’s Awake. What did you think? Anyone care to stake a claim for either Green or Red (if you argue the latter is ‘real’ that’s a depressing ending, no?). And where do you think the season second would have taken us? Sound off in the comments and thanks for reading!
Awake has, unfortunately, been cancelled so this was its last episode. 🙁